The Lockheed YO-3A Quiet Star
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The Lockheed YO-3A Quiet Star

Lockheed YO-3A Quiet Star

Image by Wikimedia Commons 

            The Quiet Star was one of the aircraft that was rarely being talked about when US military aviation was the issue. Despite of this it had been one of the most controversial aircraft designs fielded on the battlefield tasked for ground surveillance without any armament in case of enemy detection purely relying upon its quiet engine and radar absorbing paint giving it stealth characteristics even before aircraft with fully operational stealth capabilities were on the air. 

             Originally placed on production following a US Army specification issued in 1968 for an observation aircraft that would be undetected at altitude, this aircraft despite its ordinary appearance achieved extraordinary tasks. It has comparable mission functions as the U-2 although they both differ for the fact that the latter was powered by a jet engine and operates at a much higher altitude. While the U-2 proved its worth in providing important images useful in maintaining balance of power during the Cold War, the Quiet Star’s deployment although late made a significant advantage to the US in maintaining an edge during the Vietnam War.

              The YO-3A was based on a Schweizer SGS 2-32 airframe, an open class sailplane. Its transformation into the Quiet Star involved the modification of the nose to accommodate an engine to be mounted and called for the mid wing to be restructured into a low wing configuration. The usual tandem seating allowing for a pilot on the front and 2 passengers at the back was restructured to allow for a bubble canopy seating a pilot at the back and an observer in front. The canopy was even raised for head clearance allowing the pilot and observer space for maximizing their task.

               Powered by a single Continental IO-360 engine driving 6-bladed fixed pitch propellers, it was later replaced with three-bladed constant speed wooden props for better efficiency. The front observer was equipped with a Night Vision Aerial Periscope (NVAP) and infrared illuminator, the forerunner of present Night Vision Goggles (NVG) allowing it to virtually operate in low light conditions. With operating altitude at 1,200 feet and a silent engine, this aircraft managed to provide accurate spotting of North Vietnamese movement on the ground for the span of its service of 14 months (1970-71). 9 of the 11 YO-3As manufactured by Lockheed completed its tour in Vietnam without having been detected or shot down. A rather extraordinary achievement compared to the fate of the U-2.

               After Vietnam, 2 YO-3As gained service with the Louisiana Department of Fish and Game before eventually serving the FBI in assisting the capture of kidnappers and fugitives. The last YO-3A had a lasting service with NASA aiding in rotorcraft research. This sole surviving Quiet Star was officially retired on 9 March 2010. Although a group of former Quiet Star mechanics and pilots were actively working out a project under the name of Quiet Aircraft Association to restore a YO-3A into flying condition for the Western Museum of Flight, the fate of the YO-3A remains to be seen. The fact remains that the Quiet Star has proven its worth as a technology demonstrator whose operational characteristics was shrouded in silence. Quietly, it may well serve more of its time as a living remembrance of the air war in Southeast Asia flying beyond our knowing.

References:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_YO-3

Last “Yo-Yo” retired, page 15, Aircraft (www.aircraftmagazine.co.uk)

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